When I was reading The Grace of Yes by Lisa Hendey, one of my favorite chapters was called “The Grace of No.” It seemed counterintuitive to have a chapter dedicated to saying “no” to people in the middle of a book about how to say “yes,” but I understood it right away. Without saying “no” to some things, we can become overwhelmed with things to do and wind up doing none of our tasks well. This is a lesson that I have had to learn, and, frankly, it’s a lesson I need to remind myself of every once in a while.
Everyone is busy these days. If you ask anyone how they’ve been lately, you often get “Busy!” as an answer. Plenty has been written about how we don’t need to be busy, how everyone seems to be busy, and why it’s a good idea to have time each day when we’re not rushing somewhere. In this opinion peice from The New York Times, Tim Kreider talks about “The ‘Busy’ Trap” and some of the problems he sees in it:
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
While I don’t see anyone’s life as meaningless, and even trivial work can be more important than we know, he has a point. People might not feel as if they make a difference in what they do. Sometimes it’s difficult to feel as if it makes the world a better place (a mainstay of high school seniors’ yearbook-stated goals) when you’re picking up toys from the living room floor or wiping someone’s nose or making macaroni and cheese with hot dogs for lunch again.
How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?
…What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?
How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?
My life tends to be busy. Let’s face it: I homeschool my two high school daughters who are involved with our parish and each have their own activities. Mind you, they don’t have a ton of activities. When we were starting our family, Nathan and I resolved to limit them to one extracurricular at a time to prevent our lives from becoming centered around running the kids to a million different events. Even so, dance is two nights each week (with extra rehearsals for shows on occasion) and when soccer season comes around, that’s four nights each week. (The four-nights-a-week soccer started when our older daughter hit high school and began playing in a league against Christian high schools around the state.) Add to that our older daughter’s new job (and lack of driver’s licence at this time), and I’m kept busy shuttling the kids around.
I don’t want this to be a litany of my weekly commitments, though, especially since I know that I have other homeschooling friends with between 4 and 7 children, and I’ve got non-homeschooling friends with jobs whose kids are involved in multiple extracurriculars (dance, soccer, gymnastics, etc.). The point I want to make is that at some point, I had to cut back on what I was doing and pare things down to a more managable level of activity.
When I quit teaching Sunday school, stepped down from leading the Sanctity of Life Committee, and declined joining the choir, I was asked why. “I’m too busy,” was my answer. The reaction I got was a variation on the same theme. “Everyone is busy” or “Yeah, I’m working two jobs and I still find time” or (my favorite when I commented that a friend stepped down from EVERYTHING when her daughter was a senior, specifically to make sure she had time to really relish the time she had left) “Well, yeah, but she has always been a working mom.”
Certainly, I have more time in the day, and I could be more careful with my schedule and waste less time on frivolous things (like Battle Cats, for instance). And, it’s true that I don’t have a job outside of my home. (But let me tell you that I work hard!) It’s also true that other people are busier than I am and still manage to volunteer for more things or sign up for classes. But for me, I was too busy. What’s busy for me might look very different than what’s busy for you.
And that’s okay.
There are people who thrive on being busy, who love to be around people all day long. Those people walk away from a group project and feel energized and ready to tackle something else. They’re called extroverts, and while they eventually get worn down from their activities, it happens in a different way than it does for people like me.
As an introvert, I can only handle so much before I start falling apart. My brain gets overloaded if I’m too busy — out too much with other people — and I gradually lose my ability to focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. Eventually, I subconsciously decide that I need a break, and I take one whether I have time or not, usually in the form of playing some stupid iPad game. I begin to shirk my family responsibilities because my outside responsibilities have taken too much out of me.
This isn’t to use my introverted personality as an excuse or a crutch. I’ve learned to deal with social situations and be friendly and talk to people over the years. I’ve come a long way from the little girl who would hide behind her mother if her Kindergarten friend waved at her at the Ocean County Mall. And I have learned that I can handle a busy schedule when I absolutely have to. But I still need down-time, and when I can’t get it, my family suffers.
What’s “too busy” for me might look different than it does for someone who can work two jobs and run several kids around to activities and still find time to socialize with friends. Everyone’s thresholds are different. And while there are times and seasons where I push myself past my own thresholds, that kind of busyness cannot last forever, and I can’t consider it normal or even give the impression that this is how I’m going to live my life from now on.
Besides, we’re not meant to be “too busy.” We’re meant to have days of rest — an entire day, every week! — when we can simply relax and enjoy our family and friends without the worry of where you’re supposed to be in the next half-hour. When God sent Adam and Even out of the Garden of Eden, they were told to toil and work to get their food. But without rest, they would suffer. And so God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which make it clear that we are supposed to take time to simply be and to give thanks to God for our blessings. Father William Saunders writes:
While the Sabbath commemorated God’s day of rest during the seven-day creation account of Genesis, it was also sacred because of what God has done for His people when He liberated them from slavery in Egypt: “For remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you from there with His strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the Lord, your God, has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Dt 5:15).
If you’re feeling too busy, maybe it’s time to take a look at what you’re doing every day and pare back. Don’t let guilt be your guide, and don’t let someone else’s level of activity determine what you ought to be doing. For me, I have to keep my level of activity where I’m healthy, mentally and spiritually speaking, and not worry about if someone else is doing more than me.
My busy is different than yours, and that’s okay.